BY CHIP MACGREGOR
Someone recently wrote in with this question: “When someone is hired and allowed to acquire, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team (observer, etc.)?”
An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. And yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. Therefore, a publishing house gets reshaped by the editors who work there. Few editors (just a handful of senior editors) have the authority to simply go acquire.
The system looks like this:
Step one is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possilble.
Step two is the idea is taken to the editorial board or team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, petty politics come into play, etc. They may ask for further changes, they may reject it, or they may decide to continue the discussion. If the team likes it, the project then moves on to the next step.
Step three is yet another committee, known as the publishing board (or publishing committee). This is the decision-making body at most every publishing house. It includes the top sales people to talk about market response, a representative from marketing to suggest ways the company could help get the word out, somebody from finance to count the beans, the publisher of the line to give strategic direction, some senior management types, maybe a sub-rights person, and various others. The editor presents the proposal.
The participants read it, discuss it, explore sales and marketing potential, check their horoscopes, and do everything else possible in order to try and figure out if they should do the book. Eventually they make a sacrifice to the gods, throw the urim and thummin, and decide to publish something. Does that make sense?